Over the past decade, the Justice Department has worked closely with Congress and other federal agencies to strengthen the nation’s laws against terrorism, update the legal authorities needed to detect and disrupt terror plots, and tear down walls hindering intelligence and law enforcement officials from gathering and sharing information critical to protecting the nation. Some of the most significant changes in this area include the following:
USA PATRIOT Act & the Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005
The USA PATRIOT Act, which was enacted in 2001, has helped investigators identify, dismantle and disrupt many terrorist plots. Expiring provisions of the Act were reauthorized by the USA PATRIOT Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, and by subsequent legislation in 2009 and 2011, allowing investigators to continue to use these vital authorities. These laws have helped law enforcement and intelligence agencies protect the nation in the following ways:
- Helped tear down the so-called FISA “wall” that prevented effective information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence personnel.
- Allowed federal agents to better track sophisticated terrorists trained to evade detection, and provided national security investigators with tools comparable to those commonly used in criminal cases.
- Updated investigative tools to reflect new technologies and threats, and allowed authorities to obtain search warrants from a single court regardless of where terrorist-related activity occurred.
- Increased penalties for those who commit certain terrorist crimes and those who support them.
- The USA PATRIOT Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act added dozens of additional safeguards to protect privacy interests and civil liberties.
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Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008
In 2008, legislation was enacted that modernized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which passed with a bipartisan majority of Congress and broad support from the intelligence community, allows intelligence professionals to more quickly and effectively monitor terrorist communications, while protecting the civil liberties of Americans. Among other things, the law accomplishes the following:
- Ensures that the intelligence community has the tools it needs to determine who terrorists are communicating with, what they are saying and what they may be planning.
- Provides critical authorities that allow the intelligence community to acquire foreign intelligence information by targeting foreign persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States.
- Preserves and provides new civil liberties protections for Americans.
- Requires court orders to target Americans for foreign intelligence surveillance, no matter where they are, and requires court review of the procedures used to protect information about Americans.
- Provides critical liability protections for companies whose assistance is necessary to protect the country from terrorist threats.
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